Breathtaking Childhood Realizations

My Teacher is a Monster

A close second to the childhood realization that your teacher does not live at school is this; your teacher is human.

Crazy, I know! But that’s certainly not how it seems to Bobby in My Teacher is a Monster.

Ms. Kirby is a legit maniac-raging, green skinned beast posing as a person.  She stomps, roars and squelches every spark of joy… until Bobby runs into her at the park.

Somehow seeing people out of the little compartments that we mentally box them in can be just enough to jar us into a new paradigm. Or as Susan Philips argued, the participant structure of a given event shapes who we can be in that place. (Just building my nerd cred.)

This is exactly what happens to Bobby as he interacts with Ms. Kirby. She changes, and how he sees her changes. Peter Brown makes full use of this visual: gradually morphing Ms. Kirby from this…

My Teacher is a Monster 2

To this.

My Teacher is a Monster 3

Along the way Ms. Kirby learns to see that Bobby isn’t the monster that she thought he was either. And everyone is wiser, even if they still have their monster moments.

Mo Willem’s Motivation to Write

Goldilock and the Three Dinosaurs

In picture books, absolutely brilliant writing will help me overlook simplistic illustrations. (The opposite is rarely true.) Apparently I’m not alone, because Mo Willems‘ smash hit picture book career has consisted of an entire collection of such books.

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs is another fantastically funny addition to Willems’ collection.

In this spin-off, the “poorly supervised” Goldilocks ignores all common sense and trespasses onto the Dinosaurs’ residence. There she scarfs down all three bowls of chocolate pudding regardless of their temperature because IT”S CHOCOLATE!!! (Personally, I’d do the same.) Eventually she grows suspicious of the noises outside the house that sound like dinosaurs (who  want to eat her) and she escapes their trap just in time.

A few years ago a child asked Willems’ where he gets his inspiration to write such creative stories. He said, “I’m lucky. My motivation comes in the mail. It’s called bills!” Whatever the source, it’s working. Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs is another great read aloud.

 

I Hate Counting Books… but there’s an exception

Count the Monkeys

I’m pretty convinced that you can’t go into marketing unless you can lie. Case and point: Count the Monkeys isn’t a counting book.

Or is it? Hmm, well you certainly aren’t going to count monkeys because there aren’t any in the book! Instead Mac Barnett leads the reader on a wild goose chase of interactive antics to shoo off all the creatures that are in the book. By the end, all of the other animals (and lumberjacks) are gone, but… you didn’t count the monkeys!

Count the Monkeys is the kind of participatory read aloud that draws young readers to books. My class loved sneaking away from the king cobra, banging on our imaginary pots and pans (to scare the bears) and the twist of not counting with the “counting” book.

School Literacy and Boys: Another Disconnect

Battle Bunny

Once in a great while a story comes along that blows the doors off the genre of picture books.

Battle Bunny is that book.  But not because my students (mostly boys) loved it.

This book is a brilliant commentary on the disconnect between literacy and boys.

Why?

Battle Bunny is really two stories. One is a spot on basil reader. For the uninitiated: basils are normally anti-action, blasé stories no self respecting author would put their name on. (But reading textbooks are littered with them.)

Scribbled into the book we find the second story; and it’s everything many boys love about cartoons and comic books (that publishers wouldn’t dream of putting in basil readers).

I can’t do this justice without showing you. So…

It starts like a basil. It’s cute. It’s clean. It’s SO “G” rated that I’m going to either fall asleep or be sick!

Battle Bunny inside 1

Then, “Alex” – the boy who owns the book – starts changing the story by writing and drawing on it.

Battle Bunny inside 2

Then he goes nuts, turning this boring tale into an epic adventure staring Alex!

Battle Bunny inside 3

Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett transform lame into AWESOME! In the process they amply illustrate why many boys couldn’t care less about school literacy.

It’s a message that scholars (see: DysonFletcher and Newkirk) have been touting for over a decade, but basil publishers are hesitant to act on.

The time is ripe. Thousands of  other “Alexs” are waiting for us to narrow the gap between literacy and boys… BRING IT!

Move Over Olaf! There’s a New Suicidal Snowman in Town

Sneezy the Snowman

Like Olaf, Sneezy is interested in warming up. In fact he tries cocoa, and a fire and a hot tub. This doesn’t exactly turn out the way he planned. But the children keep rebuilding him, and eventually they teach him to strike a balance between the temperate extremes.

Maureen Wright penned the kind of repeated text that my students love to read with me. So, when I classroom tested Sneezy the Snowman, the read aloud gradually morphed into a whole group participatory experience. Thus, there were smiles all around. Mission accomplished!

Sneezy will be back next winter, and the next, and the next…

The Doctor is in… (Seuss, not Who)

When a writer dies, their heirs can allow some pretty strange things to happen to their works. It’s anyone’s guess if the author would approve of these extensions to their art.

Either way, I don’t approve of the explosion of posthumous Seuss products. It’s my hangup, I know. But who is this really all about anyway?

Most of these offerings strike me like an over-the-top commercial adulteration of a masterpiece.  And when the Lorax (Mr. Enviromental) was marketing SUVs… Well, let’s just say that misguided shameless greed knows no end.

But back to the Doctor’s real work. These are my top 5 Seuss read alouds selected to celebrate the Doctor’s Birthday (excluding a couple I’ve already covered).

The Lorax

The environmental advocate and his warning to the corporate world.

Cat in the Hat comes back

If only there was nothing that a little “Voom” couldn’t clean up! (But then what would the Lorax do with his free time?)

The Sneetches

We could stop trying to one up each other… but as that’s historically unprecedented, the Sneetches have a lesson for us.

Green Eggs and Ham

Serving up the iconic classic. Don’t even tell me you haven’t read it!

There's a Wocket in My Pocket

Silliness and being OK with who you are, or at least the house you live in.